Councilwoman calls for diversity in appointing new chair of budget committee

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo is calling on Mayor Robert Garcia to appoint a new chair to the Budget Oversight Committee in an attempt to expand diversity at the top of the 3-person committee.

Mungo, who has served on the committee since 2014, and as chair since 2016, said that at this time her strengths as a former grant and budget director for Los Angeles County could better be used in seeking out grants and other revenues from county, state and federal sources.

In an email sent to Garcia Thursday morning she recommended Councilman Al Austin, a current member of the committee, be appointed as chair.

“I trust your leadership in selecting a committee that will broaden the diversity and perspective of the BOC to ensure it is more reflective of the moment we are in,” Mungo wrote in the email.

The committee delves into the details of the city’s budget with individual departments and makes numerous recommendations to the rest of the 9-member City Council during annual budget cycles. The smaller, independent meetings allow for more time for dialogue between the 3 members and each department.

This year’s budget cycle will be unique because the city is currently trying to balance out a budget deficit of tens of millions of dollars for the current fiscal year while simultaneously trying to build a budget for the next fiscal year that starts in October.

Austin, who is currently a member of the committee, said that he’s enjoyed working alongside Mungo over the past 4 years and that he was confident the mayor would make a strong pick to replace her, adding that having people of color on powerful committees was crucial.

“To truly have a strong, responsive city it’s important that the composition of the council policy committees reflect the diversity of the city in every way,” said Austin, who is Black.

It’s unclear if Garcia will appoint Austin to the committee’s top spot or if he’ll need to make another appointment to replace Mungo. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Garcia posted this to mayoral Twitter account in the afternoon.

Mungo said that she doesn’t want her email to be seen as a resignation and she’s open to staying on the board, but the time had come for a change at the top, she said. If she leaves the committee entirely she thinks she could be replaced by a Latino member of the council.

Mungo is White. The 3rd member, Suzie Price, is Persian.

She added that Austin was ready for the challenge of being the chair given his 4 years of experience on the committee, which has the responsibility of overseeing the city’s $3 billion budget and the hundreds of millions of discretionary spending in the general fund.

“I think his perspective, and him leading the BOC is an acknowledgement that he and I hear things differently,” Mungo said. “I’ll continue to listen, but I know that he is ready for the challenge.”

The change at the top of the committee will come as the city is facing decreased revenues due to COVID-19 closures that have constricted the city’s tax revenue, and amid calls to defund the police and put greater investments into underserved communities and communities of color.

The last time the committee was chaired by a person of color was in from 2014-2016 when then Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal headed the committee.

Editors note: this story has been updated to include Mayor Robert Garcia’s tweet, and also to correct that Suzie Price is Persian.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.